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Monday, a coalition of anti-fracking groups and the Center for Biological Diversity urged the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to immediately shut down hundreds of injection wells that are illegally dumping toxic oil industry wastewater into scores of California aquifers during the midst of a record drought.

Toxic Injection Wells

Oil and gas companies over decades used more than 170 waste disposal wells to inject oil and gas wastewater into dozens of aquifers containing potable water, in violation of state and federal law, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The majority of these violations are located in California’s Central Valley, while others are near San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria.

"Oil companies in drought-ravaged California have, for years, pumped wastewater from their operations into aquifers that had been clean enough for people to drink," said David Baker, reporter. "They did it with explicit permission from state regulators, who were supposed to protect the increasingly strained ground water supplies from contamination."

The permission to pollute was granted because of the capture of the state's regulatory apparatus by Big Oil and other corporate interests. In fact, the oil industry not only exerts its enormous influence by spending millions and millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributors, but is able to get its officials actually placed on state and federal regulatory panels.

The oil industry not only exerts its enormous influence by spending millions and millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributors, but is able to get its officials and allies placed on state and federal regulatory panels.

In one of the most egregious examples of the conflicts of interest that infest California environmental politics, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), served as the CHAIR of the Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called "marine protected areas" in Southern California. The head lobbyist for the oil industry's campaigns to expand fracking and eviscerate California's clean water and air laws also sat on the task forces to create so-called "marine protected areas" on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast.

This latest report on the fracking disaster that has hit California follows an emergency shutdown of multiple injection wells in Kern County last year due to concern from state regulators that the wells had contaminated groundwater supplies, adding to the growing calls for Governor Jerry Brown, known as "Big Oil Brown" by many environmental activists, to immediately shut down illegal injection wells.

In a statement issued on behalf of Californians Against Fracking, Dan Jacobson, state director for Environment California, said, “Years of negligence by state officials and wanton disregard by the oil industry for the law have led us to water pollution crisis in California and a clear indication that state regulators are not willing to protect California’s farmers and families from harsh chemicals that are illegally permeating our water supply. Put simply, California regulators are not up to the task of managing safe wastewater disposal and cede residents’ safety and health to oil and gas production."

"We call on Gov. Brown immediately to shut down injection wells that are illegally polluting our groundwater and to issue a moratorium on fracking and other dangerous oil and gas activities, which create large volumes of toxic wastewater. Preserving and protecting California’s water and farms is not something to take lightly," he concluded.

The Center for Biological Diversity also called on the EPA to "immediately shut down" hundreds of injection wells that are illegally dumping toxic wastewater into scores of California aquifers, including some that supply water for drinking and farming irrigation.

Monday’s letter urges the EPA to issue an administrative order requiring operators of these disposal wells to cease operations to protect aquifers from further damage and comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

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“In the midst of an unprecedented drought and when so many Californians lack access to safe, clean drinking water, it is outrageous to allow contamination of drinking and irrigation water to continue. It is never acceptable to allow the contamination of drinking and irrigation water with industrial wastewater,” the letter says.

The Center said recently revealed documents from the EPA and the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources show that state and federal regulators have investigated at least 532 oil industry injection wells across the state — from Monterey County and sites near San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara to Kern and Los Angeles counties — over concerns they are illegally dumping wastewater into scores of aquifers containing water that should be protected under state and federal laws.

“California’s drinking water aquifers shouldn’t be garbage dumps for the oil industry,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “It’s legally required and just common sense that every well injecting wastewater illegally be shut down immediately to avoid further damage.”

Last summer, the state’s oil division issued emergency shutdown orders for multiple injection wells in Kern County after it came to light that they were injecting wastewater into aquifers containing high-quality drinking water. But she said the newly revealed documents show that hundreds of other injection wells dumping wastewater into protected aquifers are still in operation.

An EPA letter from December 2014 reveals the seriousness of the problem, but fails to order the immediate shut-down of all wells injecting into protected aquifers.

“Given the need to resolve the program’s serious deficiencies in a timely matter, EPA has strengthened oversight and support of the program,” the EPA letter says.

"Oil industry wastewater is an extremely salty fluid that typically contains a wide range of contaminants and dangerous chemicals associated with oil production," Siegel said. "It can also contain fracking chemicals linked to cancer and other serious health concerns."

Up to half of all new oil wells in California are fracked, according to a recent study. Flowback fluid from fracked wells often contains dangerous levels of cancer-causing benzene, according to state-mandated tests.

[dc]“T[/dc]his water contamination crisis is just the latest consequence of the state’s failure to protect Californians from oil industry pollution,” said Siegel. “Gov. Brown hasn’t heeded calls to protect our air, water and health, so we need the EPA to take immediate action.”


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Dan Bacher
Indybay News